Friends and poles add to the fun

I followed along as Tim Chinn, fitness director at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center, glided ahead of me.

"Try Nordic pole walking," my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Stephen Tower, had advised, following my three knee replacement surgeries. "It's rather like cross country skiing, minus the snow and the skis."

I'd never heard of it, but here I was, giving it a try at the center, under Tim's able guidance.

Tim swept along silently in front, poling his way down hallways and across lobbies and through meeting rooms, with his head held high, shoulders back, fingers relaxed, hands placed lightly on top of the poles.

"Drag the poles behind you initially," he told me, "then begin swinging them, naturally, using your arms as if you were walking."

I was dragging them, all right. With my fingers clenched in a kind of death grip on the pole tops, I was clattering along, taking out a few senior center music stands and banging into chair legs.

"There's a learning curve," Tim said, by way of encouragement.

We ventured outside, onto the Chester Creek trails behind the center, where I did a little better.

A bunch of early morning Nordic pole walkers had gathered there, part of a group that meets three times a week, walking inside the center during the winter months and on the trails when the weather turns warm. They were taking advantage of a beautiful, sunny May day.

They, too, jumped in to help me.

Arlene Wood was the first to my rescue. "You'll get this," she said. "I was using a cane after a knee replacement. It only made me wobbly. As soon as I got my poles, I dumped the cane and never picked it up again. 'Come to me, poles,' I say first thing when I get out of bed each morning. I can't wait to get to the center and join the group. It's fun! We visit and chit-chat as we walk along."

Then there was Carole Bosch, also hoping to help.

"In the beginning, I tripped on my own poles," she confided. "For a while, I quit – gave up. Tim got me back. Now I see how much it has helped my posture, my stance. I'd had a knee replacement. Once I was back pole walking, I was moving longer and faster, with no pain. Now I go out hiking in the summer with my daughter."

Another dedicated pole walker, Judy Lind, joined in.

"My daughter noticed I was walking so much better. 'What are you doing?' she asked me, 'speed walking?' She saw that my walk was so much better after a year of this."

Fit testimonials, all, and I welcomed their hope for my future.

So I turned to Tim for his assessment of the benefits he sees from Nordic pole walking, especially for the seniors he works with daily. He had a long list.

"Nordic pole walking is great for seniors. It gives stability, promotes confidence, improves posture. It picks up the metabolism. You are using your upper body much more than when just walking, so you burn more calories. It improves flexibility."

He adds, "I've seen seniors come here before surgery, and it greatly helps them become stronger before the procedure. After surgery, it can make a remarkable difference in rehab. Pole walking takes 30 percent of the stress off the lower body, since it involves pushing with the poles. There is a psychological advantage here, too. With the group, there is the social aspect. And there is the mind/body connection involved in this activity. It can improve memory and concentration."

That's enough to convince me to keep trying. That, and Tim's gracious encouragement. "We are so lucky to have him here at the center," several group members want me to know.

So I've been out doing this activity, new to me. Gone is my walking stick. (I've long made it clear to observers that it is a mountain climbing stick – not a cane!) With my Nordic poles, I am transformed. I'm convinced that I've taken on a whole new image. I am no longer a somewhat elderly person out there with an assisted walking device. I am an athlete. Tim has told me that Nordic pole walking is one on the fastest growing sports nationally and all over the world. I will join their ranks.

The Nordic poles are available at the center for members to use. Tim adds, "All people need are their tennis shoes and comfortable clothing." The Nordic pole walking group meets Monday and Wednesday mornings at 8:45 a.m., and Friday mornings at 9:30 a.m.

Anyone interested in finding out more can call the center at 770-2037.

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